I f'ing hate cancer.
Moreso, I hate that the triggers for it are in our food, our water, the air, the soil, in our appliances, our makeup...
It's almost as though there is a conspiracy to draw down the population over the next 2-3 generations. Hmm...
Luckily for me, I have been able to assist in the fight by expanding the indications for Gemzar and bringing Alimta to market. I also was a nurse at the Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis and assisted with the BRCA1 treatment protocol. But my greatest achievements are yet to come through Watson - IBM's growing attempt at Artificial Intelligence.
When I was a nurse at the Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis, I worked the midnight shift. I would sit on the edge of the bed, look them in the eye and have “The Conversation”. It boiled down to this – I am your nurse. This means I am your proxy and outside of this room, I represent what you want to all necessary medical professionals. I fight for you. So, tell me, are we fighting to stay or are we fighting to leave.
By no means an easy conversation but a necessary one.
One project I was associated with was the creation of a breast cancer biorepository with samples from around the globe. The participation in this project was positively overwhelming and overwhelmingly positive. In addition to collecting samples during many clinical trials, we also had patients volunteer their biopsies in hopes of preventing cancer for their descendants. The result? More than 2 TB of data or an estimated 35 Million pages with no unifying format.
Some of the more tantalizing data points would be considered ‘dark data’; this is where Watson can shine! The challenge of translating languages and reconciling this data, with additional data coming in daily, was a Sisyphean task by any measure. Basically, you sorted through the data until you found a promising thread – and you pulled at it until it either broke or it became a solution. Watson can pull on all the threads simultaneously AND combine the segments of seemingly unrelated data to, hopefully, find that golden thread. As daunting as it was, from that data emerged the treatment protocol for women with the BRCA1 gene expression. And while this was a monumental discovery, this progress was measured in years…and in lives.
While spending some of my time chasing at knotted threads, I was also trying to provide my own version of hope to patients and their families on a daily basis. As an advocate for the patient, you want to empower them while they are essentially in a powerless state. You bear the burden of being their proxy as best as you can… knowing at any moment the fight can be lost.
What I love about working for Watson Health is the renewed sense of hope. Collectively, we are empowering decision makers with the most recent data possible. Years of effort can be compressed into minutes AND seemingly disparate data can be immediately recognized as discordant or as a possible new treatment. Hope is good. Sometimes it is the only thing that allows us to push through mental, physical and emotional dis-ease.
Some patients, I will never forget. They were the distillation of the best of humanity. But what I had to hold back from them was my frustration of knowing there was a possible cure hiding in a mountain of data we just did not have the time / money to fully explore. When someone is fighting for their life, looks up at you and asks, what else can be done, it can break your heart. Watson is empowering researchers, clinicians, and decision makers with the best data possible. But in the trenches, where it counts, we’ve put hope back onto the table. It makes “The Conversation” a hell of a lot easier to have.